+++This morning I -- and several other confreres -- attended the funeral Mass for the father of one of our monks (made possible because it took place in nearby Evansville). It was a beautiful expression of hope in God's mercy through the Resurrection of Christ, and it was good to be there. It was also sad, of course. Although I did not know my confrere's father, his family is mourning the death of man who died too soon (age 69) after complications from a recent surgery that has left his loved ones emotionally exhausted.
On the way back to the monastery, I thought about the Lenten penances or bona opera (good works) we take up as Christians and monks to prepare ourselves to enter more fully into the Easter mystery (hopefully) year-round. Like many, I suspect, I cannot claim to be "100 percent successful" in my Lenten observances. However, genuine asceticism aims at purity of heart and flows from an interior disposition focused on the love of God regardless of exterior circumstances.
In this respect, it occurred to me (as it has before, though I must have needed a reminder) that the most difficult penances, good works, or other acts of asceticism -- and therefore the most spiritually valuable in the eyes of God -- are those we don't choose ourselves but that are thrust upon us. Witnessing the profound sorrow of my confrere's family reminded me of that. It's a place I've been before, something we will all experience at one time or another, and the pain is indescribable--yet also potentially life-transforming.
This family event, I'm sure, was not on anyone's list of Lenten observances. I do pray, however, that it intensifies their authentic spiritual longing for the eternal joy of Holy Easter. And I know that it will.
+++A couple weeks ago, I sat at the same lunch table with Br. Jerome Croteau (who turned 82 yesterday). Somehow we got on the subject of the various jobs he's had through the years as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. He's had quite a few, and plenty of stories to go along with them. Among other things he worked years ago in the monastery's vineyard and wine cellar (now defunct). More than 50 years ago, he helped build Bede Hall here, which is currently undergoing extensive interior renovation. He has worked on the groundskeeping crew, helped dig graves in the cemetery, and he has been a firefighter. The list goes on.
Anyway, at one point I said to him, "Br. Jerome, you've seen a lot of history around here. You should write a book!" He simply laughed, but the next day he tapped me on the shoulder and told me that about 20 years ago or so, he had written down some of his remembrances, and asked if I would be interested in reading them. Of course, I said.
So, this past week I have been thumbing through a thick folder of writings he handed over to me. I wonder if anyone else even knows they exist. There's a piece on the vineyard, another about growing up on an Indian mission in North Dakota, and the time he spent at St. Paul's Mission school in Marty, South Dakota, in the late 1940s. "I was always slow in school," he writes. "I stayed two years in a couple of grades. I do not remember which ones they were."
Br. Jerome is a very astute man in many ways, but he is not known as a writer. So, I have been rather taken aback by how detailed, straightforward, humorous, and even profound the pieces are that he gave me. They are not works of art by any means, but they achieve, I think, one genuine vision of monastic life at Saint Meinrad lived out by someone who's been at this for 62 years.
Here is a little snippet of one of his reflections that stopped me in my tracks:
I am reminded by Psalm 1 that we may never reach the extreme either of virtue or of vice, but we are at every moment making for one or the other. We need to remind ourselves what the end of each road is and that we have a powerful companion along the one road, but along the other, we are alone.
+++Something I ran across during lectio this morning:
You may say that it sometimes seems that you are without the desire to turn to God. My answer is this: Why do you feel such grief upon the subject of this seeming lack? Loss of an object causes grief only in proportion to the affection you have for it. If we had not regard for it, we should feel no grief at being deprived of it. Do you know great grief at being without wealth, honors, beauty, and so forth? These things do not afflict you, and you never give a thought to them. The same would apply to your desire for God, were that desire truly absent from your heart. If then, this seeming absence afflicts you, evidently the absence is not a real one.
-- Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J. (+1751)